Learning to be unsick

This is just for my mental therapy.

11.5 months ago I had  surgery on the neck to cut out the cancer. That required the Doc to cut a nerve to my right shoulder. Those muscles atrophied (a bit, no?). I’m not complaining. I’ll trade that numb or dead spot for that pain in my neck any time.  There are certain things I can’t do. A right hand layup on the basketball hoop for example.  I can’t use my right hand to scratch parts of my back – that involves lifting the shoulder up before moving the forearm down.  I couldn’t get my lawnmower started because I couldn’t pull the cord fast enough.

My eating abilities changed.  I adjusted my menu and cooking.

I spent some cash on new computers and parts – I could still type and think although I was no better at either than I was before.

So you make adjustments. I hired a  mowing service.  When the night time cools down, I sat on the deck in the dark and pondered how things have changed since last year and was thankful this year was much better than last year. I was also sliding into victim-hood. You get used to spending money like you only have a year left (or thinking you might only have a short time).  You stop paying attention.  Do what you’re told. Do what needs to be done with your check book.

For example, It was uncomfortable rowing through the gears in the Porsche 944. I couldn’t rest my right comfortably on the console. I felt ‘bound up’.  The 944 was also making a growling noise at low speed. Something was failing. Maybe I should sell it and buy something sensible like a Kia or a Honda with an automatic?  Sure, it would cost a lot but who can predict the future?

In the AARP bi-monthly rag was a hint that a growling sound might be low power steering fluid levels. They were right.  Who knew? I do now. $7.00 fix.  A few days later I was embolden to adjust the seating position in the 944. Just slide the seat back, one notch and It’s all good. Not perfect but much better. Obvious? It wasn’t.

The lesson is that thinking like a woe-is-me victim and maybe I can spend my way to happiness  if I have enough money. That caused me to ignore the simplest solutions.  I saw that behaviour in my mothers final years and yet I didn’t see it happing to me. Victim hood creeps up on you slowly. Beware the wumpus.

Undoing and Redoing

This site and 2 of my other blogs have been compromised by hackers. Every month or so I get an email from the nice folks at Dreamhost that they’ve found something wrong and I go digging around and fix the problems they identified and then a month later (or week later) I get another email and the process repeats.The email always encourages me to sign up for their ‘premium’ scanning service.  You can guess how I feel about that.

Yesterday I decided I should really get serious about the problem.  Track it down the infection(s), fix it and just generally delete stuff that I put on the server that I really don’t care about.  It’s a lot like cleaning out that junk drawer in the kitchen. [Note to self: clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen].  If you reply to the dreamhost email they’ll run a more detailed scan if you ask.  A lot of false positives are in that secondary scan but it also  finds problems that the first scan doesn’t report. Enough dancing around, I thought.  I need to find all the source of the infections.

I have misgivings about the Gallery package I use. It’s highly functional but it’s difficult to use and more difficult to update, which is why I haven’t updated it. So I started down that path and became annoyed with Gallery all over again. Maybe there is newer photo gallery that can import? Dreamhost offers a one-click install of Piwigo which is actively maintained and if you’re willing to do some dancing there might be an importer that worked once for some people. Evidently I wasn’t one of the chosen. I chose not to try very hard.  I decided to delete the photo gallery.

To most photographers that’s like cutting off their Johnson in a Bobbitt fit.  Not to me. Who cares if my photos are on my website? Do you?  I’ve got 3 backups at home and the website. I don’t look at them now and after the inevitable dirt nap occurs, I  won’t be looking them then. They exist(ed) in a web photo gallery because I thought it was fun once and then I thought it was important to maintain it because I had put so much effort into creating it.  That really doesn’t make sense. Why would you maintain something that gives you no pleasure? Nostalgia is way over rated.  Time has never run backwards. Yes, deleting the photos causes some old web pages to break.  Let me know which ones are important to you.

Actually, I’m back to where I was a year ago before the big C diagnosis: Trying to de-clutter.  You wouldn’t know that by all the toy’s and gadgets  I’ve bought in the last year, but “I have a cunning plan” quoth Blackadder.

I installed the WordFence plugin on my WordPress sites. It’s scan found a couple of infection access points that Dreamhost didn’t find and obviously I didn’t find them either.  I doubt the task is complete, but for today, I’m good.

Dell Weirdness

Add this to the mystery files.  A few months (6?) I bought a Dell Inspirion 660 and a 2340L  monitor.  Generally,  I’m pleased with the device. More memory that I can use, oodles of disk space, 4 core i5, each core is plenty fast. The disk is fast and the whole thing is quiet. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the fan get wound up.  Generally pleased I am. There were some odd difficulties getting it set up and installing Linux but it’s been solid since then. I keep the system on 24×7 but it’s done fine over several power failures and the occasional reboot needed for a new patch Linux kernel.

And then there are days like today where those early difficulties return for no damn reason that the Dell box should care about,  or even know about,  or even could know about.  But it does.  I bought a new set of powered speakers and a subwoofer, CA-3908 which comes with a puck/dongle that has volume control, a headphone jack, a couple of knobs and switches. Overkill for me. So I power down the system. Unplug the old audio out jack, plug in the new stuff to the audio out jack. It works. So I try some listening tests to see if these speakers all as good as the Amazon reviewers claim.   Well, yes and no. That’s a separate blog post and/or review comment.

I decided I should list to the old speakers at the same volume level, playing the same tunes but rather that shutdown and rewire the back panel, I’ll just plug the old system into the Dell’s front panel jack. I assumed it would cut out the back panel or play in parallel.  Didn’t work. The Dell (with Linux knowledge maybe?) detected the switching and killed audio output to both jacks. Huh? OK. I’ll reboot without the headphone jack plugged in.  Power down from the Linux menu. Remove jack. Power up.

The freaking monitor doesn’t work!  What? How is that possible?!? After a few seconds the new speakers beep with the sound that I set in Linux for “you can log in now”.    I got on the Raspberry Pi attached to my old monitor so I could google solutions. Unplugging everything seemed to be the general solution. That is so Windows. So I unplugged the wall wart and the computer. Plugged them back in and  rebooted. Still the monitor refused to come on.  I took the old monitor off the pi and hooked it up the Dell. That worked. Thank the spirits!  The font’s are all wrong for dpi and aspect ratios but it works. Maybe I should hook the Dell Monitor to the Pi? PITA but better than nothing.

The Dell 2340 monitor has it’s own wall wart so I’d have to move that across the room to the Pi so I started fishing that out of the rats nest of cables.  Oops. I was unplugging the USB hub not the monitor. Sheepishly,  I unplugged the monitor power. Plugged it back in. No freaking difference. Linux boots makes login sound and nothing shows up on the screen.  Obviously the monitor swap is my only solution. Right? Power everything off.  I find the real monitor wall wart. Ah, a little green LED. Power is on.  Pull the wart’s AC cord out of the power strip.  The freaking green LED is still glowing! The wart and both cords are disconnected and dangling in my hand and freaking light is still on! Does Satan know use green LEDs instead of Red? Did I miss the memo?

After a couple of minutes the LED did fade to black. Die Satan, die! I attached to Dell monitor to the Dell computer and power them both up and everything is fine. Even the new speakers work within their funky limits – but that’s a different post.

I have no clue why Dell designed things that way – every other monitor turns off when asked.  FWIW, the Dell computer doesn’t turn itself completely off either when you pull the plug. I wonder if the NSA knows what BIOS setting to use when booting w/o a monitor?

I wonder what happens if I plug head phones in to that puck thing on a working system? Or the front panel jack?



Moo! Market Vectors

I haven’t posted here since early November 2013?  Oops. I was busy working on a project while waiting for the next CT scan. And then another CT scans. Obviously the first set was ‘curious’ and the second was ‘probably not cancer’.  So, I’m clean to go until I start worrying in August.

It’s always a good time to rebalance a portfolio – sometimes you should change things and I’ve been annoyed at the performance of my holding in MOO, an Agribusiness  ETF that I purchased a few years ago.  I wasn’t under water by  much and with  the small dividend, I might be near break even.  I’ll admit to buying the ETF without looking very hard at the holdings inside. I mean it’s  Food! Demand won’t go down any time soon! Right?  I’ll also have to admit not reading the yearly and quarterly statements.  For ETF’s those are really boiler plate and a graph – if you had $10,000 in you’d have 11K (or 20K or 9.5K) now but I already knew that from the current price minus my purchase price. Short story: I didn’t do my due diligence.

Now I have done some.  MOO has slowly been moving up, closer to my price. Yesterday the annual report arrived. This time I read it. Like Many ETF’s the report includes other ETF’s in the Van Eck Global Market Vectors  ‘family’.  I looked at MOO’s graph – looks like what I know. Not a winner but not a loser.  Then I looked at the Graphs for the other funds. Coal KOL). Global Alternative Energy(GEX) . Gold Miners (GDX). Junior Gold Minors (GDXJ) . Oil Services (OIH). Rare Earths/Strategic Metals (REMX). and 5 more (HAP, KWT, SLX, FRAK, NLR).  Not one of them had a chart you’d be proud of.  Oh, they all dipped in the Great Recession and bumped around but many of them flat lined and very few had positive returns.  I’d managed to pick one of the least bad.  Every one knows Coal is dead. The chart of KOL shows that.  Green energy is the future, right? With rich tax payer subsidies, grants and loan guarantees, they ought to be doing well?

GEX and KWT. All the proof you need to see that Politically Current Investing can fail spectacularly. Government can’t pick winner but it sure does find the losers.  My 5% loss looks brilliant.  Curious people might want to dig into what or who made these indices that are being tracked.  The  MOO holdings is a whole lot more global than I thought I was getting. My error – I bet the recession was less global and would be shorter.

Raspberry Pi

Yes, I got one this afternoon. A Model B starter kit along with a HDMI to DVI cable and an EDIMAX wireless USB adapter (EW-7811Un). The pi is just as cute as the pictures promise and it booted up just fine with my monitor and the wired enet cable. In the config menu I went with Raspbian and the in the advanced setting I started the sshd server. However, the keyboard was acting strange. It’s an old Mac keyboard with a built-in hub for the mouse. I was able to ssh in from my desktop system so it’s me or the pi. On a hunch, I added a spare powered USB hub and plugged the keyboard and mouse into that. Problem solved.

I added a 60GB external USB hard disk to the hub. Works fine. I’m not sure I want it but it’s good to know the drive will work. I used the GUI and tried the Wifi Setup with my USB adapter. it works too! I setup my router to assign a static IP to the wireless mac and then I installed webmin. Using the pi’s web browser I found an article that walked me through installing webmin. That took some time since I picked instructions that setup apache, mysql, and php — none of which webmin needs. That’s OK.

Webmin works too. I’m testing it right now as it updates 43 or so packages from the repositories. That poor little cpu in the Pi is working hard. I didn’t expect blazing speed. I’m impressed with the Pi and webmin. If you admin a Linux system, you should try webmin. Really!

I also replaced the ‘pi’ account with my own user name. Don’t try that without a ssh connection and a root account setup.

Curve fitting is fun

I’m not dead, although I haven’t been blogging. I am feeling well enough to revisit some old unfinished computer projects: Genetic Algorithms/Genetic Programming for Market Timing models.

For those that are new to this blog, I’ve been running a market timing system since 1997 or 1998 or somewhere around that time. Everyday the system gets prices and market information and outputs a buy or sell signal. FYI, it’s called the Timing4 model of Perfect Market Timing System (PMTS). Except it’s far from perfect. It sucks. It does provide some insight that is sort-of useful so I keep running it. That makes my PMTS similar to the UN IPCC climate models. They both fail and I don’t want my money or your money guided by a failed model.

Back in 2005 or so, I wrote some code that would apply genetic programming techniques. Basically it generates and series of models, tests them and then evolves them using selection, crossover and mutation operations into a new generation of models. The genetic algorithms do work. They do create a model that whups ass on my timing4 model and stomps Buy and Hold into dust. It’s also a lot of fun watching the models evolve. Do the generated models make sense? Mostly, no. And they leave money on the table (hillclimbing problem). I stopped playing with it.

That’s a technical challenge I’d like to take up again. That old Java program still runs and I’ve still got the historical backtest data to 1980 (PMTS uses 1993 to current). I also had to replace my old computer a few weeks ago and the new ones has lots of memory and a fast processor. Time to play around.

First lets run the numbers for Buy and Hold. All the following simulations results use data from Jan 4, 1993 through Oct 29, 2013, w/o commission costs. You start with $50,000 (50K). Buying the S&P 500 Index (SPX) then you’d have 114.842 shares of SPX, now worth $203,494.64 or a CAGR of 7.04%.

But Cecil, that doesn’t include dividends! Too true. Also, you couldn’t buy the S&P500 either. SPY didn’t exist until a month later. There is a dividend adjusted SPY price series and using it would be close to reality. You’d also have $300,900.13 for a CAGR if 9.09%. That’s pretty decent and shows the value of dividends and compounding them.

But But Cecil, you’re cherry picking start and end dates!! Nobody made 9% per year after the dotcom bust and the Great Recession. Sorry, they did. At the time I write this, the SPY just hit a new high, so yes the end date does matter.

Lets say you used the Timing4 (PMTS) system instead. You would have bought 115.117 shares of SPX and at the end, you would have 92.727 shares. I said it sucked. That’s $164,308.02 for a CAGR of 5.94% .

If you bought dividend adjusted SPY (which normal people would do), Timing4 would have produced $220,345.81 or a 7.45% CAGR. Better than 5.94% but pretty sucky compared to the 9% CAGR of buy and hold.

That’s the baseline for this data set. 9.09% year after year. I’ve shown I can curve fit and do worse.How about curve fitting and doing better? Let the fun begin. I put the Genetic Programming algorithms to the problem. 100 individuals generated/bred/mutated models per generation. At generation 160 (2 minutes later, best of 200 generations). How much mo’ better best?

$929,250.63 — 15.22% CAGR on the dividend adjusted SPY. In real life it might be slightly smaller since the dividend adjustments in the data are a little wonky. Then again, that model was mostly long so it would have captured most of the dividends. It also left money on the table – it could have done better. For completeness, w/o dividends it was $665,188.41 (13.37% CAGR) It also fails on the 1980 to 1999 backtest . Oh Well. that’s why we have backtests.

That’s fun and a lot more realistic than Climate Models.

Now it starts.

I went in for the PET/CT scan this morning. It’s painless but it does take a long time being quiet. The important point about the test is they want to see if there is cancer elsewhere in the body. Odds would tend to be high that they’ll find something. Then again, they warn that sometimes they never find where it came from.

Tuesdays procedure is not going to be so pleasant. It’s outpatient surgery, so I’ll be under anesthesia for at least 30 minute while the Doc pokes around in my throat. He may cut something out if he doesn’t like it. I’ve been warned that Tonsils, good or bad are likely to go missing.

We all know the God’s love to help us sort out coincidences. On the way home from the CET scan I stopped at the Doc’s place to prepay some of the surgeon and surgery center costs that they estimate the insurance won’t cover. They estimate mostly correctly (but it’s all get sorted out, right?). I happened to have the $1150 in cash so I used a debit card. I could have used a credit card, gotten sicker, failed to pay off the CC and accrued penalties and interest. That is why you need 3 to 6 months of expenses in your checking account.

The Gods’ other blow: I got a recap of benefits paid statement from the insurance company. Oh, yes I’ll be out of pocket max tomorrow. You would be very wrong to believe that.

The Biospy Procedure

Mine was a “Soft Tissue needle biopsy”. The nurse and then the Doc both explained it and then it happened just like they said. I had to go 8 hours without food or drink. No morning coffee for a 8:00AM. That’s annoying. The ultrasound table is uncomfortable and the pillow provide no support for my head. I had to lay on my side and that turns to be me starting at the blank wall in the room instead of the rest of the room where there is a clock. That joy was not for me.

First I had to put on one of their shirts (stains don’t come out). Then the nurse gets out all the bits the radiologist will be using (5 needles). She took some odd steps (to me) to insure it was kept sterile. Then she did the ultrasound and we waited for the Doc to show up (8:10). He explains what he’s going to do. Onto my side, they clean my neck, drape some sticky plastic and a sterile cloth on me and the doc describes what he’s doing. First is a shot to deaden the local area – like Novocain at the dentist the nurse claimed. No, it wasn’t that painful. After that you don’t really feel much of anything you feel the pressure as the doc pokes around with needles, but pain. The doc described it as “scraping some cells” and from the tiny pressures changes I feel from his hands that is what happened. He did that five times. Then they send the five samples (needles) to Pathology and you wait for them pronounce the samples of acceptable quality.
If they aren’t the radiologist has to repeat, so you lay on the uncomfy table with the uncomfy pillow looking at the the blank wall. In my case, the samples were judged sufficient in 10 or 15 minutes. The nurse cleans everything up and I put my shirt on and leave at 8:55AM.

I won’t know the results for several days. I’m sure further annoyances will start then.

Imagination & Coping

So far I’m taking a wait and see approach. I haven’t looked into what WEBMD says or any of the thousands or millions of websites. Why? I know I have an active imagination and it can lead me astray with too much info and not enough facts.

It’s too easy to imagine facts where they don’t apply. A few days ago I noticed my stool wasn’t normal. Is it the Big C or my diet or diagnosis stress or BPA in my soup cans or mercury in a childhood vaccine? A day ago I thought I might have some discomfort in the right side sinuses and a low level head ache – tumor alert!!! Panic! Panic! A few hours later some local TV folks were complaining on TV news about their allergies kicking in with the nice spring weather. We hell, that explains my sinus discomfort too (and better as its muvh more likely).

If you dive in the deep end of the information pool, you can drown. If you dive in the shallow end you can drown after hitting you head on the bottom. I like to walk around the pool and assess what I know and what I can’t know and what’s not worth knowing.

For instance, will tomorrow’s needle biopsy hurt? Will I whimper in pain like a disciplined puppy? It doesn’t matter — I’m still going to get it done.

I’m already unhappy with 7:30 AM registration and I’ll still be unhappy about the early hours after it’s finished. I will whine about that, for sure. I just did. Nothing I read on the web will change or help with tomorrow. Don’t dive in the information pool.

Tangentially, but related I read an interesting take down of the Infomercial heavy Cancer Treatment Centers’s success rates. They only accept those they think they can help.

“It’s a Holistic Medicine Pocketbook, Batman!”
“Indeed Robin, it is the evil face of selection bias. To the Batmobile!


Family and friends want to know how I’m coping with the diagnosis. It’s a hard question because I can’t answer it in a way that everyone will feel good about. Better to not worry too much about my sensitive readers.

Facebook followers might have caught a clue with two videos I linked to. Jackson Brown’s “Pretender” and The Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere”. Every day you get up and do it again. It’s hard to say when I became a David Byrne fan (Talking Heads) but I love his/their music and the lyrics. David’s choice of images makes me cry. There are pictures of normal things I didn’t do in my life and now I may never do them.

Then we get up and do it again. The balance between self imposed comforting tedium and riding a rocket ship to doom or glory are options that I can’t ignore. If you care to think it out, it’s a choice we all will deal with and there is no best answer.

Me, I scored some tasty Asparagus at $1.69/lb and I’m going to eat it. And get up and do it again.